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Legislative History (Federal & State): Finding Legislative Documents

A guide to finding state and federal legislative documents and performing legislative history research.

Finding Legislative Documents

This guide will help you find the following types of legislative documents:

Looking for more definitions?

Reading a Citation

If you have a citation  

Here's a quick guide to the Bluebook abbreviations for the documents found in this guide. For detailed information, see Bluebook Rule 13.

Note:  Several citation forms include the abbreviated name of the chamber. S. is Senate. H.R. is the House of Representatives.

Examples:

BILL:  H.R. 4173, 111th Cong. (2010)

REPORT H.R. Rep. No. 111-517 (2010) (Conf. Rep.) 

DOCUMENT:  S. Doc. No. 109-19 (2006) 

COMMITTEE PRINT:  House Committee on Education and Labor, Picketing and Boycotts. Selected Readings, March 1 1959

DEBATE:  152 Cong. Rec. 1988 (2006) 

PUBLIC LAW:  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010) 

Unfamiliar with the Bluebook? See the law library's Bluebook LibGuide.

Searching for Legislative History

Accessing legislative materials is no longer as difficult as it once was- many of the items you are looking for are available in a variety of sources electronically.

Determining what you will need, sifting through results, and understanding which tool to use, however, is more complicated than ever. This section of the guide will provide you with some basic guidance about how to get started, where to look for specific materials or time periods, and best practice is legislative research. This guidance is by no means exhaustive. Should you want or need more information, please be sure to check out the "More Resources" section on the Home page of this guide.

This guide will discuss how to find legislative materials

  • FINDING LEGISLATIVE DOCUMENTS BY CITATION (see subpages by item type in the lefthand column)

Getting Started

The language of each Code section is based on the original act that created it and any later laws that amended it. To compile a complete legislative history for a current federal law, it is necessary to locate the documents related to both the creating act and any later amendments. To begin the process, it is helpful to locate as much as possible of the following information for each act:

  1. its Public Law (or chapter) number [Pub. L. 110-2];
  2. its location in the U.S. Statutes at Large [121 Stat. 5.];
  3. the date of enactment [Feb. 2, 2007];
  4. the number of the House or Senate bill that was enacted [110- H.R. 475].

The Public Law number and Statutes at Large citation are easily found with the text of the codified language in the official U.S. Code or the annotated unofficial versions. Each section of the Code also provides a short parenthetical note explaining how the amendments changed the existing text.

This information will help you better navigate a variety of search interfaces and research databases.

Guide to Legislative History Sources

Historical and current legislative documents can be found in several sources. Because the amount of information available on a given piece of legislation can be voluminous, searching is not often the best place to start. It is, however, sometimes necessary to find legislative materials using traditional searching techniques.
When doing so, remember to be mindful of:

  • the depth of coverage of the resource: What type of materials does it collect? How far back does it reach?
  • the type of searching interface the resource has: What information do I need? Is there a more usable option?
  • the costs and access issues associated with the resources: Is the source free? Do I have access? Are their fees associated with retrieval?

Below is a quick guide to government and commercial legislative sources, along with a brief description of each.